Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and Vice President Michelle O'Neill
Source: Getty Images

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald and Vice President Michelle O'Neill in 2018

Sinn Féin Claims Northern Ireland Assembly in a “Seismic” First

Dan Clarendon - Author

May 10 2022, Published 8:08 a.m. ET

Now that Sinn Féin is leading the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time in the party’s 118-year history, onlookers have questions about Sinn Féin and its links to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) — the paramilitary group that contributed to the three-decade conflict known as The Troubles as the group fought to get out from under British rule.

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Sinn Féin is still pushing for a united Ireland but is emphasizing a peaceful changeover. “The preparation for constitutional change in Ireland needs to begin now,” Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald told CNN on Friday, May 6. “We need to be alive to the fact that change is underway. It is my absolute determination that that change will be entirely peaceful.”

Here’s more information on the party, its politics, and its platform.

Is Sinn Féin the IRA?

As BBC News reported in 2019 — when the party had achieved the second-largest number of elected politicians in Northern Ireland — Sinn Féin was formerly the political wing of the IRA and supported the group’s violent campaign to unite Ireland.

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Sinn Féin billboard
Source: Getty Images

Some Sinn Féin representatives were once IRA members, including Martina Anderson, a former Member of the European Parliament, Gerry Kelly, a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for North Belfast, and the late Martin McGuinness, a former deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

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Since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the official end to the IRA’s armed campaign in 2005, Sinn Féin pursues Irish unification through peaceful means, BBC News reports.

“I believe Irish reunification and a new Ireland is the best opportunity for everybody who lives on this island and we need to talk about that,” McDonald told the BBC, according to Reuters.

Is Sinn Féin socialist?

Sinn Féin is a democratic socialist party that supports left-leaning domestic policies, according to BBC News. On its website, Sinn Féin says that in addition to working toward Irish unity, it pledges to make affordable housing available, put more money in the pockets of workers and families, make childcare and early childhood education a public service, and combat crime by bolstering the Garda Síochána police force.

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On the website for The Left in the European Parliament, Sinn Féin brands itself “an all-Ireland party striving to establish a united democratic socialist republic” that believes “a successful economy redistributes wealth and guarantees the right to education and training.”

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Sinn Féin was founded in 1905, but the Northern Ireland Assembly election on Thursday, May 5, marked the first time the party won the largest number of seats in the assembly. After Sinn Féin took 27 of the 90 seats in the assembly, the Democratic Unionist Party got bumped from the top spot for the first time in two decades, according to the Associated Press.

Now, Sinn Féin can name a first minister for the first time, CNN reports. “Sinn Fein on course to hold the first minister job is an earthquake” for Northern Ireland politics, Bill White, chief executive of polling company LucidTalk, told Reuters. “This is seismic.”


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